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October 30, 2005

Asking Targeted Clients For Work... Or Why Are Lawyers So Shy, Anyway?

Over the years this keeps happening. I take a general counsel or non-lawyer executive or CFO of a targeted client to lunch or dinner to ask for work. At some point I briefly say what my firm does and how we can help the client on particular legal issues it has. I ask a few questions. I do a short (very informal) pitch which ends with: "We like [the company] and we'd love to work with you. How can I win/earn your business?"

The client rep laughs and says something like, "That's refreshing--because I can't tell you how many times I have dined, gone to sporting events or played golf with lawyers and they never ask me for my business. Sometimes this goes on for years. I know that's why they are there--but they won't ever get to the point."

"So what's up with that?" he or she continues. "Are lawyers shy or something? Why would I want to hire a law firm not aggressive enough, direct enough or business-oriented enough to just ask for the work?"

Posted by JD Hull at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

Are Federal Judges "Better" Than State Judges? Are They Better For for Clients?

Yes to both questions. Call me non-egalitarian, a Tory or an elitist but state court judges--trial or appellate--should never be popularly elected. Ever.

Like federal judges, state court judges in all 50 states should be selected based on merit. Currently, however, more than half of the states use some form of popular election to choose judges, although not all of those states elect all of their judges (i.e., some states only elect trial court judges which, to me, is still scary).

It is now nearly 2006. Technology has made the world commercially more compact. The slightest wrinkle renders a simple business project global. Legal matters for a business client--even a small upstart company--will take your firm's litigation practice to a number of different American states.

My firm has appeared on behalf of out-of-town businesses before some good state judges. But even in instances where the judge is good, it is "just wrong" for my client to have to appear before an elected official in a state court to which they have little or no local connection. Whether I have local counsel as a sidekick or not, our client and I are before jurists who may have received campaign money from our opponents.

Even if all elected judges were honest, judicial elections naturally erode public confidence because they imply that judges have "constituents" (i.e., the entities and lawyers who contribute to their campaigns) and that justice is political. It doesn't pass anyone's smell test. In a country with the best law schools in the world and with legions of truly talented lawyers, who believe that lawyering is a privilege and art, we can do better than that. And some day we will. See, for example, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

In the meantime, whenever possible, our clients (and I) need to be before federal judges in federal courts. We are safer in them. True, national politics enter into the merit selection process of federal judges, and not all who win appointments are stellar. And some sitting federal judges never get that diversity jurisdiction was devised 218 years ago due to the belief that a federal judge would be both "better" and less likely than a state judge to be prejudiced toward a citizen of a different state. In the main, though, they are a talented lot--my firm is happy with them. Federal judges are smarter, fairer and better for clients in the new Information Age world.

Posted by JD Hull at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2005

The First Post--"What About Clients?"

Of the eight entries I've done in this blawg since launching it in August, the key and central post--and the one I like the most--is the First Post. The "client problem" discussed in that entry is the whole point of this blawg.

There are over 1000 legal blogs--some of them superb--and not enough time to sift through them all. But if you never read anything else in my blawg, please click above and read my first post!

Posted by JD Hull at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2005

Why Perfect Legal Work Alone Just Doesn't Matter....Or The Bill Gates-to-Steve Jobs Comeback Line of the 20th Century

My favorite comeback line ever comes not from W.C. Fields, Winston Churchill or Cicero but from Bill Gates -- in a fictionalized conversation between Steve Jobs and Gates in the 1999 TNT movie "The Pirates of Silicon Valley." If you didn't see it, there's a fair review of the movie in Salon, and you can always rent it.

It is 1984, and Jobs has just launched Macintosh. In a meeting with Gates, Jobs has realized that Microsoft's Windows software "borrowed" some of Jobs' Apple concepts and ideas. Jobs is screaming at Gates, who starts to walk away.

"We have better stuff!" screeches Jobs. Gates stops, spins around and faces Jobs. "You don't get it," he responds. "That doesn't matter."

Does this scene--whether or not it really happened--ring true when it comes to overall client service? My experience is an overwhelming “yes.” Quality products and quality services aren't enough.

We have a spectacularly hokey saying at my firm. Clients need to "be safe, feel safe". If clients don't "feel safe," they won't fully embrace and appreciate you or your firm. Without the comfort of feeling safe, it won't impress them at all that the last memo you sent them by you and your prized ex-Supreme Court clerk was dead-on, groundbreaking, brilliant. They won't care.

And they shouldn't care. Obviously, the quality of our actual legal products -- recommendations, advice, opinion letters, litigation results, settlement terms, etc. -- needs to be first-rate. And it's wonderful if you can be the best at anything. But you won't keep even the most sophisticated, respectful "we'll-leave-you-alone-and-let-you-do-your-magic" business client which uses outside legal talent every day very long unless the client (or its GC -- it doesn't matter) both appreciates your work and is "comfortable" with it and you. Comfort.

For starters on how to make clients both be and feel safe, see Harry Beckwith's Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing.

Posted by JD Hull at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)